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Grocery shopping in style


THIS PAST SATURDAY I passed by the old Gorsuch Avenue A&P.; OK, it's really a Super Fresh, but I'll always think of that grocery store by its former name.

It was no ordinary Saturday in Waverly. It was the last day of the store's selling-out sale. A few people milled around outside. That evening, the store closed for good.

I've often heard that Baltimoreans stubbornly live in the past. So the passing of a food store that had served in this same location for 60 years is a cause for neighborhood mourning.

When built, there was an A&P; on one side of the store; the other half of the square footage was leased to an Acme. About 1959 the A&P; took over its competitor's space and wowed the neighborhood by doubling its size.

The two stores had divided neighborhood loyalties. You went either one way (Acme) or the other (A&P;). Except, of course, if you were a devoted duckpin bowler.

The second floor of the grocery building at Gorsuch Avenue and Old York Road was the domain of the Stadium Bowling Lanes. It was here that I spent many a Saturday afternoon while Chubby Checker records played over the loudspeakers. It was a testament to how well constructed this plant was that you could not hear the sound of strikes and spares when you shopped for pickles and ground beef.

Mine was an A&P; family -- Eight O'Clock coffee, Ann Page strawberry preserves and Iona canned goods. And each Wednesday, my grandmother, her sister, my great aunt and mother did the marketing.

Come a midweek in, say, 1954, we'd head for the store, driving not (usually) our car but a roomy brown wicker baby carriage. On the way to the store, it was empty, except for me, a 4-year-old, because I frequently refused to walk. On the way back, I preferred to ride as well and sat stuffed into place by grocery bags.

Although the store possessed a parking lot, many customers arrived as we did, on foot. A few dashed through the aisles quickly because they had a Baltimore Transit Company transfer and had a few minutes to shop on the interchange between the No. 8 Greenmount Avenue streetcar and the No. 3 Northwood bus.

In the 1950s Baltimore was changing, but Waverly retained the feel, if not the reality, of a 19th-century Baltimore County village. The asphalt on Gorsuch Avenue still held a pair of streetcar tracks, even though the cars had stopped running there some years earlier. Greenmount Avenue had dozens of small shops where you were instantly recognized upon entering and much discussed after you left.

My grandmother was not given to much talking, but she did seem to come alive conversationally in the aisles of that A&P.; She chatted up Mr. Smith, the manager (I never knew his first name) and then caught up on the neighborhood news from her fellow shoppers.

One of her regular talkers was Mike Schofield, who was famous in the neighborhood as the groundskeeper for old Oriole Park on 29th Street. Mike was doubly famed because he slept in quarters inside the wooden grandstand and was physically present during the early morning hours of July 4, 1944, when the Orioles home went up in flames. For some reason I always remember groundskeeper Mike by the produce counter.

Over the years, many of the old customers switched their shopping habits to other A&Ps; that were perhaps newer or in a more glamorous location. My father, however, shopped at the Waverly store to the end.

And on that point I'll tell one last story.

While we often did the marketing via baby carriage, we sometimes rode in style too.

My father had a 1940 Buick that was running well into the 1950s. One day the car began to smell -- very bad, then worse. He checked and checked until he located the source of this malodor: a steak from the A&P;'s meat counter that had worked its way loose from a brown paper bag and lodged somewhere in the trunk.

It was then that he decided it was time to trade in the Buick.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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